Gary Singh, managing director of The Clean Crew, discusses franchisor aspirations, buying a company he previously worked for and how he keeps his staff motivated.
What does your business do?
We do commercial cleaning in the Hawke's Bay. In 2008 I started working for the company and left in 2013. I bought the business in 2015, which at that time was named Cameron Cleaning Crew. We re-branded everything to The Clean Crew and have since been working on ways to expand the business and improve on the traditional ways of cleaning.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I have two experiences in my life: one is cleaning and one is coffee-making, and so I was looking for a coffee business to start with - but I can only make coffee, I can't cook food, so cafes were off the cards and at the same time when I was looking for a cafe I saw that Cameron Cleaning Crew was up for sale. As I knew most of the clients and I had dealt personally as a cleaner I thought ownership of this type of business would be an easy transition for me rather than a cafe. The business was small-scale when my wife and I bought it but we knew there was potential for expanding operations nationwide.
How big is your team?
We started with four team members and now we are now a team of 41. We're not only operating in Hawke's Bay, but also Nelson and Manawatū.
You've recently launched an app, how does this changed operations?
When we took over the business there were a lot of things that were loopholes or lose vents and the cleaning was done on a trust basis. One night we got a complaint and spent a whole day dealing with a problem and we had no evidence to show that our crew has done the job so I got thinking how can we show the client that the job has been done. We also thought about how we can improve communication between the client and our cleaners, so we thought there was a gap where staff could get away with some things and we wouldn't know, so we set out to solve these problems.
We built our own app called Convoy with GPS tracking so we can track the whereabouts of our crew, and if they miss a half an hour timeframe our system tells us somebody missed a job, so we can rectify before a problem arises. Since we have introduced the app, our staff are self-vigilant and it has improved their quality of cleaning because now they are taking pictures of their own work on a daily basis so our clients can check those photos and comment on it through the app. In cleaning, staff never get appreciation so our allows that to be shown and also to motivate our staff. Our staff are often alone at premises after 5pm when nobody is there so the app allows them to keep up with messages.
What are your long-term plans?
In five years' time we want to rule New Zealand, and in 10 years' time we will be around the world as well. Work is underway on bundling up our Hawke's Bay operation for a franchisee and we plan to be 15 franchisees by the mid of next year. We have four leads that we are talking to at the moment to convert into franchisees and the aim is to continue to deliver on that this year. We want to sell a licence to every city in NZ - we hope to achieve that by 2023.
How much did you purchase the business for in 2015?
I bought the business for $95,000 and the turnover at that time was $220,000. Shortly before I was set to takeover the business, it lost a $100,000 client, which meant I had paid doubled the price for a chunk of business lost on day one. That was a big setback for me, but it allowed me to focus more on the business and sit down and re evaluate what we could bring to the market with unique selling points. We've grown the business since then and turnover today is touching $1.8 million annually.
What's been the biggest challenge you've faced running the Clean Crew?
The biggest challenge is managing staff and motivating and encouraging them to stay with the business longer. Cleaning is not everyone's cup of tea so we're constantly exploring how we can bring people on board and be happy to work in this industry. This is also why we are expanding to a franchise model because when we are throughout New Zealand having a local hub will enable local management to ensure our reputation isn't at stake.
What advice do you have for others thinking about starting their own business?
Business is not easy and you have to spend at least one year fulltime in the firm to see the good and bad side of the business. Once you honestly put in an effort for one year it will be crazy busy for you, that's what I have realised.